Cadel Evans of the BMC team became the first Australian to win the Tour de France. At 34, he is the oldest Tour winner in 88 years.
PARIS — Cadel Evans became the first Australian and, at 34, the oldest man in 88 years to win the Tour de France. He wished Aldo Sassi had been alive to see Sunday’s victory.
Sassi, an Italian, was Evans’ longtime coach, the person most responsible for his transformation from mountain-bike champion to road-cycling force. Before Sassi died of brain cancer in December, he told Evans one final wish: that he win the prestigious Tour, to become, in Sassi’s words, “the most complete rider of your generation.”
Evans relayed that story Saturday, after he vaulted atop the leaderboard with a 26-mile sprint that defined both his triumph in this race and the most dramatic Tour in years. As Evans continued, his eyes red and watery, his voice cracked repeatedly, and he bit his lower lip.
Sassi, Evans said, “often believed in me more than I did.”
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This Evans, relaxed and vulnerable, came across as likable. Thus continued the BMC team rider’s ongoing public transformation.
For years, when others in cycling called Evans by his nickname, Cuddles, they did not mean it as a compliment. They meant it in a sarcastic sense, since Evans often appeared humorless, prone to excuses, excessively private and ill-tempered.
This Evans no longer seemed like a diva in spandex bike shorts, his previous Tour de France history filled with instances of falling down and falling short. Instead, his demeanor throughout this race and his victory spin down the Champs-Elysees on Sunday highlighted how at least recently he had changed, if not forever, then for long enough to win here.
“It’s 20 years since I watched my very first Tour de France, and in all that time, a lot of people have believed in me,” Evans said.
Then he reconsidered. “Well, not as many people as a lot of people think.”
Evans entered Sunday’s 21st and final stage with one requirement: He could not crash. Flanked by teammates, including cycling’s lucky rabbit’s foot, George Hincapie, who has been part of nine separate Tour victories, Evans smiled as he pedaled.
He shook hands with defending champion Alberto Contador, a Saxo Bank Sungard rider who edged Evans in the 2007 Tour by 23 seconds. He chatted with Andy and Frank Schleck of Luxembourg, who finished in second and third place for the Leopard-Trek team.
Near the finish, in anticipation of Evans’ final push, his fellow Australians lined the road to cheer.
Evans won in 86 hours, 12 minutes, 22 seconds.
Runner-up Andy Schleck was 1 minute, 34 seconds behind. Contador, a Spaniard, finished fifth.
Henri Pelissier was 34 when he won the 1923 Tour de France.